Saturday, October 19, 2019

Solomon's Proverbs

Most scholars use an evolutionary approach to the book of Proverbs, contending that proverbs began as one-line sayings (Proverbs 24:26) to which “motive-clauses” were later added (16:12). These were grouped by topic (23:17–21) until they eventually became longer poems (like those in 1–9). This generally accepted theory routinely denies that Solomon wrote more than a few of the proverbs.

Even some conservatives say that Proverbs 1–9 was written long after Solomon. The general view is that these chapters and the title (1:1), explained as only a general heading, were added when Hezekiah’s men collated the final chapters of the book (25:1). Proverbs is then broken into units according to the titles found in the text (1:1; 10:1; 22:17 [cf. 24:23]; 24:23; 25:1; 30:1; 31:1).

When, however, we compare Proverbs to the “instructions” of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia—works of roughly the same type, we find two types. Some have a full title followed by a prologue giving the purpose of the book, an introductory or prefatory section (some are quite extended), and the proverbs themselves, often broken up by subtitles. Others have only a simple title followed by a list of proverbial sayings.

In these works, proverbial materials of all lengths, from one-line sayings to extended poems, can be found in all areas at all times.

These two findings have at least three major implications:

(1) There is no evidence for the evolution of the proverbial form from one-line sayings to extended poems. The evidence instead shows all types of proverbial materials in all periods and all areas (Israel, Egypt, Mesopotamia). There is, therefore, no reason to doubt the Solomonic origin of the proverbs—indeed, a tenth-century date is the most reasonable, based on certain changes in style and form.

(2) Proverbs 1–24 must be seen and interpreted as a literary unit, conceived, composed, and arranged (or overseen) by Solomon.

(3) Proverbs 1–9 is, therefore, the original preface to Proverbs 10–24, intended by Solomon to help us understand the proverbs. If, as seems likely, the men of Hezekiah merely finished work interrupted by some event during Solomon’s life—perhaps even his death, we should see this as the intended preface to those chapters as well.

This comparative study should increase our confidence in the Scriptures. It also helps us avoid the mistake of reading the proverbs as merely pious advice, or as self-interested pragmatism. Rather, Proverbs 1–9 clearly demonstrate their theological foundation in Creation (8:22–31) and the covenant (8:32–36) and places their proper use under the fear of the Lord (1:7).